One Forestry Class Changed Everything for this NZ Forester | Rayonier Stories
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One Forestry Class Changed Everything for this NZ Forester

In our Rayonier Graduates series, we’re talking to recent Forestry College graduates who now work for Rayonier. In this story, New Zealand Harvest Forester Sarah de Gouw shares how she discovered that sustainable forestry was the perfect fit for her passion for science and the environment.

One seemingly small decision can change where your life is headed.

Sarah de Gouw was one year into pursuing a science degree at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury when she decided to take a forestry course as an elective. By the end of the course, she knew forestry was the career for her.

“Forestry combined my passion for the outdoors with environmental management, sustainability and what I had learned in the beginning of my science degree,” says Sarah, now a Rayonier harvest forester in Southland, New Zealand. “I knew absolutely nothing about the industry until I took that course.”

It was an exciting discovery for two reasons: first, because it was such an interesting field, with a wide range of subjects, the kind of hands-on work Sarah loves and even field trips across the South and North islands. Secondly, forestry expertise was (and is) in high-demand in the workforce, with many jobs available throughout New Zealand for forestry graduates.

New Zealand Forester Sarah de Gouw

A Wide Variety of Subjects

The more Sarah learned about forestry, the more she confirmed this was where she belonged. 

“The wide variety of subjects that we studied was surprising, everything from economics and engineering to biosecurity, silviculture and wood science,” she says. “The advancement of technology in the industry was also surprising.”

Sarah was able to see how drones, winch-assist machines and other tech was changing the landscape of forestry work, making it safer, more efficient and environmentally-friendly.

“Most classes also had a lab component, which created variety and a chance to complete some practical work or assignments that imitated scenarios in our potential future jobs,” Sarah says. 

Studying forestry was exciting and interesting, but also took a lot of hard work. Determined to get her Bachelor of Forestry Science with honors, she spent many early mornings and late nights in the computer lab and library.

“For me the most challenging part was the statistics courses, as math had never been my strongest point. But the lectures are amazing as well as your classmates, so it was easy to get extra help when needed,” she says.

A Closeknit Group

The school’s forestry classes were small, and the bonds between forestry students were strong. Sarah became involved in the Forestry Society, known as FORSOC, which united forestry students throughout the university. There were also special Women in Forestry events.

“Even several years after graduating, whenever we are in the same city as other classmates, we still catch up for a BBQ or drink,” Sarah says.

Discovering Rayonier through an Internship

When summer break came around, Sarah made some new friends in her summer internships, joining the Rayonier team each summer.

“Summer student jobs were advertised through the School of Forestry at uni,” she recalls. “Rayonier employees and the contractors are all great people, and it creates a work environment that is enjoyable to be a part of.”

The internships gave her real-life experience in the type of work she wanted to do:

“During the summer, I worked as a part of the Rayonier Canterbury office. I helped create harvests plans, QC logs, QC blocks that had been thinned and complete assessments of significant ecological areas.”

After graduation, Sarah knew where she wanted to go: she immediately began working for Rayonier.

“The people and high standards were inspiring and something I wanted to contribute to. The ability for growth and development opportunities was also appealing,” she says.

Sarah studied forestry at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury, then began working on Rayonier’s Southland properties.

Sarah uses principles she learned at university regularly in her career with Rayonier.

“Basic harvest planning principles and creating maps using ArcMap are skills that I use every week in my current role,” she says. “Time management is also an important skill to ensure jobs and projects are completed on time.”

Some of her favorite aspects of her work are catching up with contractors in the forest, working on harvest plans and problem solving.

“It is rewarding to be working for a company in a sustainable industry that cares about our environmental impact,” she says. 

Advice for Future Forestry Students

For students considering a forestry degree, Sarah says it is a great first step into a promising career.

“The degree is specialised for the industry and the types of jobs you are mostly likely to apply for when you graduate, so you will be well-prepared when you complete your degree,” she says.

It’s also just plain enjoyable.

University as a forestry major was so much fun. The class sizes were small so you got to know your classmates and lecturers well. And the wide variety of subjects meant that every semester was different.”

There’s also variety in job options within the field.

The forest industry provides so many opportunities,” Sarah says. “You can be involved in any part of the ‘cycle’ all the way from the very beginning—when land prepping of a block for planting occurs—to the sale of the logs to customers around the world, and all the many jobs in between.”

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